A little while ago at the end of February, I was standing at my back door looking out at my garden and looking forward to summer. Unusually for February in Scotland, it was warm and sunny. Very warm and sunny. So warm and sunny that I later picked my son up from school in sunglasses and a cardigan rather than the usual bulky winter coat and warm hat. As I stood there, enjoying the sight of my bulbs coming into flower, I remembered coming across an article on Facebook the previous evening, headlining the recent sunny weather as evidence that we are all doomed due to climate change. I skipped past it at the time, and even the memory of it gave me a brief flicker of irritation. But standing at my back door, I suddenly realised what irked me about that article, why I refused even to open it. It, and countless other articles like it, was crafted to change my priorities and behaviour by making me feel scared and guilty.
Climate change is real, and climate change does affect trends in the weather. Even without resorting to statistics from learned sources, I know that when I was a child, we had deep snow for weeks at a time pretty much every winter. The last few years, we have been lucky to get more than a couple of days with snow, and the entire country seems to panic if more than an inch falls. There is no sensible way to deny the mountains of scientific evidence that humans have influenced our planet’s climate and we all need to play our part in facing up to it. But, are doomsday articles about a sunny day really the best way to encourage us to do that?
Climate change happens gradually, over decades, hundreds of years. Weather is weather. Scotland is renowned for having four seasons in one day, and if we get a bit of warm sun in February, we should be allowed to make the most of it, to enjoy the warmth on our faces for a couple of days. It is only fair when we are just as likely to get hail in May. But, more than that, that article, and many others like it, whether about climate change or conservation, consistently make change out to be bad, scary, our fault. They are trying to promote change through fear of change.
The real truth is that planet Earth has been changing since the moment it was born out of bits of star. And ever since life first evolved here, it has influenced the planet. When those first single-cells developed photosynthesis and started filling the atmosphere with oxygen, it was poisonous to many of the other life forms around at the time. There are thousands of species of plants and animals that can now only be found in the fossil record. Entire continents have broken apart into bits and crashed together to make new continents. The evolution of life on planet Earth has involved constant and mind-blowing change both in terms of the species of plants and animals living on our planet, and the planet itself. We have been on this planet a nano second. Yes we have caused change in that nano second, but there was change before we existed, and there would have been change during our tenancy whether we meddled or not. Change is part of life, on whatever scale you look at it.
I desperately want my son to grow up in a beautiful world with clean air and water that supports life as we know it. Enough land above sea level and not under ice or a desert for everyone to live on and grow sufficient food. For him to share that world with a bewildering variety of plants and animals. Planet Earth is our home and as the current species with the greatest influence over it, we are it’s custodians. I have rented a lot of homes in my time. I have never hacked out all the shrubs, shot the wildlife and and filled the garden with mounds of rubbish. I have never polluted the air or water with chemicals likely to kill me or destroy my home. I have never expected an unlimited supply of resources to come out of the fridge. Why we are still treating our planetary home like this when we know so much better I cannot understand. But neither can I understand this feverish zeal with which we are told we must be fearful of a warm sunny day because it signals change and change is bad.
We need to look after the planet and the plants and animals that we share it with. But not because we are frightened of change. Not because our gob-smackingly old and variable planet needs saving. Because we want to keep living here. Because it is the right thing to do to take care of our home. Because we really quite like particular neighbours like whales and tigers and elephants and bees and we want to keep them.
Change is inevitable – we cannot stop it. We can and should choose how we inflence it, whether at an individual level, or as a species. We need to take responsibility for our impact on the planet in the same way we that we do for our brick homes and local communities. To take what action we can to ensure that planet Earth remains an amazing place for humans to live for generations to come. But we also have to accept that things change. And we need to remember to look for the opportunities in that change, not fear it.
Sometimes the reasons behind the choices that we make are as powerful, if not more so than the choices themselves. I do not want my son to grow up in a world based on fear. I want him to make choices based on passion and love, not fear of failure or loss. I want world leaders to promote change because it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid of losing votes. And I want a world where we face change, in all its forms, without pretending it is not happening, and without being so foolish and arrogant as to think we can keep things the same forever.
Meanwhile, I’m glad that I took the time to appreciate that sunny day. We had snow this morning and rain this afternoon. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. And I will endeavour to teach my son to make his choices in life based on what he values. Not on what he is told to fear.